For those who do not know, the Cotton Ceiling is a term developed by Drew DeVeaux to talk about the experience trans* women encounter in various queer and sexual liberation communities – while our participation in progressive communities as social and activist members is accepted (sometimes tentatively so), trans* women participation as romantic and sexual members of the community is often fraught with systematic, individual, and cultural challenges and oppressions. As an effort to start a dialog about our experiences, Morgan M Page is hosting a conversation at an upcoming Planned Parenthood Confrence in Toronto about the Cotton Ceiling and how trans women can overcome some of the challenges facing our sexual empowerment and sexual liberation. Of course, this desire by trans* women to engage in dialog about the cultural influences which impact our sexual agency has been taken by the anti-trans radfems to mean trans women are wanting to engage in non-consensual sex acts with their dear, precious, vulnerable cis lesbians. But then, radfems try to equate anything trans women do to rape.
Personally, I am tired about arguing about my right to talk about certain my experiences. I am tired about arguing about my right to engage in discourse about a cultural phenomenon impacts me and my life. And I tired about trying to get a small, vocal segment of the internet community to respect the language I use for myself.
I want to actually talk about the Cotton Ceiling. And since there is no way I can make it out to Toronto to participate in the conversation Morgan Page is planning on hosting there – being a poor, middle-aged, unknown trans woman in Denver means I never get to out to where the cool kids are doing their things – I figure I can start a conversation here.
And the only way I know how to start one is to talk about my experiences with the Cotton Ceiling, and where it has impacted my life. So because of the Cotton Ceiling:
- I resisted accepting a trans identity for myself for years because I knew of no examples of trans women involved with other women.
- I have avoided participating in women’s events because I did not want to “invade.” I have avoided them even when directly invited. When I did participate at an event I was invited, my participation created a community wide upset and conversation about trans women’s inclusion, and what sort of trans women should be allowed.
- I do not go to women’s bars because I assume I am not wanted there.
- When I do go to women’s spaces or events, I make sure to only flirt ot interact with other trans women or women who came with me to the event.
- At a recent national level conference which included a sexual liberation track, there were no trans women who were part of the presentation lineup.
- Because of my lack of participation in women’s spaces, I do not have a very strong network with other queer activists in my communities. I know my stuff. I am really good at analysis and seeing the larger picture. I am an amazing presenter and public speaker. I know how to facilitate conversation. And I am amazing when it comes to promoting awareness and point out issues in supportive, non-confrontational ways. Very few people outside those I have worked, lived and been friends with know this about me.
- I feel guilty about not finding the bodies of some trans women attractive. I do not feel a similar guilt about not finding the bodies of some cis men, trans men, or cis women attractive.
- I do not believe I am attractive. I do not believe my body is desirable. If someone finds me attractive, I have to repeatedly make sure they know I am a trans woman. If a straight man or lesbian woman does do, I make sure they are “okay” with trans women multiple times.
- I have allowed myself to be pressured into relationships and pressured into sexual acts because I felt at least I was desired.
- I do not even know when someone is flirting with me anymore or simply being nice. Because I assume I am undesirable, untouchable, and no one would care to have sex with me, I assume that no one would flirt with me.
- I rarely approach potential sex or play partners. When I do, I only approach people who in some way identify themselves as bisexual, pansexual or in some way not interested in exclusively one gender or “sex.” If I do not know a person’s orientation, I will not at all.
- If I do plan on seeing out possible long term or casual partners, I know I will have to fetishize myself and “market” myself as something exotic.
- Because I do not want to be seen as “another one of those trans women” to people in my potential dating pool, I do my best to appear I have everything calm, collected, my life in order, and that I am without need. I have begun to suspect this contributes to me appearing aloof and unapproachable.
- Because of some of my experiences, I tend to be exceeding cautious when it to dealing with men expressing their attraction to me. In the back of my mind there is the thought that they are expecting sex from me. And some of the sex they desire and expect is not the sort of sex I want to provide. In my mind, they always seem to come on too strong, too creepy, not strong enough, or some combination.
- I do not see mainstream porn which features people such as myself related to topics I find most appealing. Trans women really seem to have only two roles in porn – being anally or orally penetrated by men, or anally or orally penetrating men.
- I do not see inclusive, queer porn which includes people I feel I can relate in terms of my body identity, at least not without expending a great deal of effort searching for it. Even then, with the exception of two titles, I cannot simply purchase a DVD of queer porn which includes trans women. I must sign up for a membership and download the content. Even then, I doubt I will find kinky, BDSM, sex positive, trans porn.
- If I question the naming choice of a certain queer porn production company or talk about its effect on trans women, I get magical intent thrown at me.
- I do not feel like I can participate in the sex industry – films, modeling, pro domming, tantric energy work – because I feel I am too overweight and too old to be considered desirable or marketable as a trans women. In fact, I have been told I am too fat to be marketable.
- If I were to do porn, it would likely have to be mainstream porn, as queer, sex positive porn is only done in a few, select places, and there is little to no attempt to reach out or engage trans women talent.
- If I decide to become a pro in any manner – pro domme, tantrika, etc. – I will likely have to accept that I will be expected to have sex with clients, even if cis women in these fields do not. I will never be able to find a mentor because of this expectation. And I have been told no one would hire a trans woman pro domme they could not have sex with.
- I do not feel I have a right to my own sexual agency or own sexual liberation.
- I did not have near this many sexual challenges or hang-ups before transition. I was a pretty boy. I was desired. If it were really about access to women’s bodies, I would have never transitioned.
- I feel my feelings are silly, overblown, unfounded, and I am being selfish and oversensitive. I feel as though expressing them will open me up to harassment, derision and ridicule. Or they will be used as excuses as to why trans women should be dehumanized and excluded from certain spaces. There is part of me which feels I should keep silent least my words be used as a weapon against other trans women.
- I feel isolated and on my own when it comes to my sexual liberation.
- And I do not see any of this changing.
For those looking for additional dialog on the Cotton Ceiling:
- Ceiling Metaphors Are Used For Systemic Change
- A few unsaid words in the “cotton ceiling” conversation
- requiem for a dialogue: a trans woman on dating and politics in queer women’s communities
- Some Thoughts on the Cotton Ceiling
- The ‘cotton ceiling’ and gender variance
- The Cotton Ceiling Is Real and It’s Time for All Queer and Trans People to Fight Back
- Thoughts on “The Cotton Ceiling”
- Dating from the Margins: Desexualizing and Cultural Abuse
- Dating from the Margins: “She’s Kind of Insecure,” or the Catch-22 of Marginalization
- 3/27/12 – added links to the Dating from the Margins series
- 3/28/12 – added link to Queer Feminism article on the Cotton Ceiling.
- 4/1/12 – Added link to Thoughts on “The Cotton Ceiling”